2017 Yankees letter from Rob Manfred reveals team engaged in video sign-stealing before MLB crackdown

2017 Yankees letter from Rob Manfred reveals team engaged in video sign-stealing before MLB crackdown

For weeks, we’ve been hearing about this letter from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to the Yankees that was written and delivered in 2017 regarding sign-stealing. The Yankees have been fighting in the court system to prevent the letter from being unsealed and revealed to the public. Appeals courts denied the request, however.

Tuesday, SNY revealed the contents of the letter. You can read it in full here, but below is one of the prominent sections.

During our investigation into the Red Sox’s misconduct, [Redacted] informed the Department of Investigations that the Yankees used a similar scheme to that of the Red Sox to decode opposing Clubs’ signs and relay them to the batter when a runner was on second base. [Redacted] — who initially noticed that the Red Sox were using a smartwatch to pass information to their players — admitted to the Department of Investigations that during the 2015 season and the first half of the 2016 season, [Redacted]provided information about opposing Club’s signs to players and members of the coaching staff in the replay room at Yankee Stadium, who then physically relayed the information to the Yankees’ dugout. [Redacted] also admitted that during that same time period, in certain stadiums on the road where the video room was not proximate to the dugout, used the phone line in the replay room to orally provide real-time information about opposing Club’s signs to Yankee coaches on the bench.

[….]

The Yankees’ use of the dugout phone to relay information about an opposing Club’s signs during the 2015 season, and part of the 2016 season, constitutes a material violation of the Replay Review Regulations.

The Yankees were found to have used the video replay room to figure out opposing sign systems, relay them to runners on second base, who then relayed them to the batters. This was done in 2015 and 2016, however, before the league sent a letter to every team in 2017 in a major attempt to crackdown on video use in sign-stealing schemes. The Yankees were fined $100,000 for their scheme.

As a reminder, both the Astros and Red Sox have been punished for electronic sign-stealing schemes, but those transgressions occurred after the 2017 letter from Manfred to every team. The SNY report notes that the Astros stole signs during the playoffs in 2017 and the Red Sox did so throughout the 2018 season.

In this particular letter to the Yankees, it is noted that the league cleared them of any wrongdoing after the 2017 Manfred warning and ensuing crackdown. It also specifically mentions a Red Sox complaint that the Yankees used YES (their local TV broadcast) cameras to steal signs and, again, clears the Yankees of any wrongdoing.

“My office has thoroughly investigated the Red Sox’s claims in this regard and has concluded they are without merit,” Manfred’s letter states.

While the Yankees certainly broke the rules in 2015 and 2016, it’s entirely possible many teams did as well. Note the relatively small fine given to the ball club. It also wouldn’t make sense for Manfred to send a league-wide letter warning of a big crackdown if only a few teams were violating the rules. No, it seems like the biggest crimes came after said letter and those were limited to the Astros and Red Sox, at least as far as all the information we have at this juncture.

The Yankees released the following statement Tuesday after the letter was unveiled:

The contents and details of the letter from Commissioner Manfred to Brian Cashman have been widely reported upon since 2017. As the facts of the letter again show, the Yankees were not penalized for sign stealing but were penalized for improper use of the telephone in the replay room (which was only to be used for discussions regarding replay review challenges). At that point in time, sign stealing was utilized as a competitive tool by numerous teams throughout Major League Baseball and only became illegal after the Commissioner’s specific delineation of the rules on September 15, 2017.

The Yankees were also vindicated by Major League Baseball regarding claims that the team employed YES Network resources in efforts to gain an illegal advantage during games. Those allegations were found to have no merit.

The Yankees vigorously fought the production of this letter, not only for the legal principle involved, but to prevent the incorrect equating of events that occurred before the establishment of the Commissioner’s sign-stealing rules with those that took place after. What should be made vibrantly clear is this: the fine noted in Major League Baseball’s letter was imposed before MLB’s new regulations and standards were issued.

Since Major League Baseball clarified its regulations regarding the use of video room equipment on September 15, 2017, the Yankees have had no infractions or violations.

MLB also released a statement (read it in full here), which said in part, “the Yankees did not violate MLB’s rules at the time governing sign stealing. At that time, use of the replay room to decode signs was not expressly prohibited by MLB rules as long as the information was not communicated electronically to the dugout. Because rules regarding use of replay had evolved, many clubs moved their video equipment to close proximity to the field, giving personnel the potential ability to quickly relay signs to the field.”

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